Although built on Native American land, few things in Toronto remind people of that past. With the intention of changing that fact, a project was started to rename some of Toronto’s street names to reflect that heritage. The project is run by Hayden King who is the director of the Centre for Indigenous Governance at Ryerson and Susan Blight, an Anishinaabeg (Ojibwe) woman, at the University of Toronto’s First Nations House.
Inspired by the Idle No More movement in December 2012 the street signs, tastefully camouflaged in official blue and white, were put up to highlight the fact that the city still has a vibrant aboriginal community. It is meant to fight the injustice of the past and the rights of Native American people to have their claims fulfilled and be visible again.
The inspiration for the signs is found in the report of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which found that Canada´s residential school system amounted to cultural genocide. For decades the school system was run to assimilate other cultures to the mainstream Anglo-Saxon cultural heritage, the ruling culture in the US and Canada today. Forbidden to speak their language and taught to be ashamed of their Native American culture, the system graduated individuals struggling to find a place for themselves in modern day Canadian society.
The street signs reflect Native American culture and history, the very same Canadian society tried to oppress for so long. And, the name of the land north of Lake Ontario was called Wendake and the Toronto area Toran-ten (Meeting Place).
An example of Anishinaabeg street signs are:
Davenport Rd., June 2: Gete-Onigaming (Ge-de-oh-ni-guh-ming), meaning “at the old portage.” Thousands of years ago, Davenport was the shoreline of Lake Ontario, and what is now Davenport Rd. was a trail connecting the Humber and the Don rivers.
Spadina Rd., June 2: Ishpadinaa (ish-pah-di-naw), meaning “a place on a hill.” The Toronto street name is a “bastardization” of this Ojibwe word, King says.
College St. at Bathurst St., May 2013: Gikinoo‘amaagegaming (gi-gi-no – uh-maw-gay-guh ming), meaning “place of learning.” Intended as a direct translation of “college,” and put up to coincide with the “reclaiming” of Greater Victoria’s Mount Douglas, which the Coast Salish people renamed Pkols, their traditional name for the peak.
Indian Road at Bloor St. W., March 2013: Mikana Anishinaabe (mi-gi-nuh uh-ni-shi-naw-bay), meaning “trail of the Anishinaabe,” the collective name of the Ojibwe, Algonquin and Ottawa peoples. King and Blight wanted to criticize the umbrella term “Indian,” which many find offensive. “We just wanted to say, there’s so such thing as an Indian. There are Anishinaabe people and there are Mohawk people,” King said.
Queen St. at Spadina Ave., January 2013: Ogimaa Mikana (oh-gi-maw mi-gi-nuh), meaning “Leader’s Trail,” in honor of the female leaders of Idle No More, the aboriginal protest movement that began in December 2012. The sign was posted as a tribute to the end of Attawapiskat Chief Theresa Spence’s six-week hunger strike.